PUP News of the World, February 21, 2014

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Each week we post a round-up of some of our most exciting national and international PUP book coverage. Reviews, interviews, events, articles–this is the spot for coverage of all things “PUP books” that took place in the last week. Enjoy!


Even though this winter may feel like an eternity, we can still begin preparing for all the fun activities spring has to offer, like bird watching. Rare Birds of North America is the first comprehensive illustrated guide to the vagrant birds that occur throughout the United States and Canada. Featuring 275 stunning color plates, this book covers 262 species originating from three very different regions–the Old World, the New World tropics, and the world’s oceans. It explains the causes of avian vagrancy and breaks down patterns of occurrence by region and season, enabling readers to see where, when, and why each species occurs in North America. Detailed species accounts describe key identification features, taxonomy, age, sex, distribution, and status. This week, Parade ran a review of Rare Birds of North America. Want to preview the book? You can view a sample entry.


History is a tricky business. With so much happening all over the world every day, it becomes very easy to unintentionally downplay or overlook important events and natural disasters. One perfect example was the volcanic explosion on the island of Tambora in the East Indies. As volcanic explosions typically go, the explosion greatly  affected the environment and the lives of the island’s residents.  Gillen D’Arcy Wood, professor of English at the University of Illinois, does this disaster a great service by giving it the attention it deserves in his new book, Tambora: The Eruption that Changed the World.

Publishers Weekly’s recent starred review of Tambora said:

“The greatest volcanic eruption of modern times occurred in 1815 on the small island of Tambora in the East Indies. It spawned the most extreme weather in thousands of years. In what contemporaries described as the “year without a summer,” its immense ash cloud encircled and cooled the Earth. While historians have mostly ignored the decades of worldwide misery, starvation, and disease that followed, Wood (The Shock of the Real), professor of English at the University of Illinois, remedies this oversight, combining a scientific introduction to volcanism with a vivid account of the eruption’s cultural, political, and economic impact that persisted throughout the century.”

Interested in Tambora?  You can start reading the introduction here.

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The current state of the economy is always making news. People want to know how their country is surviving and thriving economically. In discussion of the economy, GDP almost always comes into play, but what is the real significance of this economic term.  Diane Coyle’s GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History traces the history of this artificial, abstract, complex, but exceedingly important statistic from its eighteenth- and nineteenth-century precursors through its invention in the 1940s and its postwar golden age, and then through the Great Crash up to today. The reader learns why this standard measure of the size of a country’s economy was invented, how it has changed over the decades, and what its strengths and weaknesses are. The book explains why even small changes in GDP can decide elections, influence major political decisions, and determine whether countries can keep borrowing or be thrown into recession. The book ends by making the case that GDP was a good measure for the twentieth century but is increasingly inappropriate for a twenty-first-century economy driven by innovation, services, and intangible goods.  Dianne Coyle recently wrote an articles for Foreign Affairs and VoxEU in which she explains the practical, or not so practical side of the GDP and elaborates on themes from GDP: A Brief but Affectionate History. You can also read the introduction here.


Just as the economy as a whole is a critical portion of the news cycle, so are the banking systems that play a part in the economy. But why are banking systems unstable in so many countries–but not in others? The United States has had twelve systemic banking crises since 1840, while Canada has had none. Fragile by Design is a revealing exploration of the ways that politics inevitably intrudes into bank regulation. Charles Calomiris and Stephen Haber combine political history and economics to examine how coalitions of politicians, bankers, and other interest groups form, why some endure while others are undermined, and how they generate policies that determine who gets to be a banker, who has access to credit, and who pays for bank bailouts and rescues.

Influential economics blogger Arnold Kling recently reviewed Fragile by Design on his Askblog. Kling critiqued the content of the book from an economics perspective, but ultimately sang its praises with “Everyone, regardless of ideology, should read the book. It offers a lot of food for thought.”  In the review, Kling also referenced attending Russ Roberts’ Econtalk  live interview with the authors, Calomiris and Haber. Kling recommends, “You might look forward to listening–the authors are very articulate and they speak colorfully.”  You can listen to the Econtalk Live podcast here.

Charles W. Calomiris, along with colleague Allen H. Meltzer, recently wrote an op-ed piece for the Wall Street Journal entitled “How Dodd-Frank Doubles Down on ‘Too Big to Fail”, in which he elaborates on a specific act which attempts to undo some of the damage from the 2008 financial crisis. Read the full Wall Street Journal article here.  Howard Davies of Times Higher Education also recently reviewed Fragile by Design, saying “Calomiris and Haber offer a thoughtful counter-argument to the current received wisdom.” You can find the full Times Higher Education review here.    Interested in reading more? Get a head start on Fragile by Design with Chapter 1 found here.

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Also recently reviewed for Times Higher Education was Charles L. Adler’s Wizards, Aliens and Starships: Physics and Math in Fantasy and Science Fiction.  From teleportation and space elevators to alien contact and interstellar travel, science fiction and fantasy writers have come up with some brilliant and innovative ideas. Yet how plausible are these ideas–for instance, could Mr. Weasley’s flying car in the Harry Potter books really exist? Which concepts might actually happen, and which ones wouldn’t work at all? Wizards, Aliens, and Starships delves into the most extraordinary details in science fiction and fantasy–such as time warps, shape changing, rocket launches, and illumination by floating candle–and shows readers the physics and math behind the phenomena.  You can find the Times Higher Education review here and begin reading Chapter 1 of Wizards, Aliens and Starships here.


In last week’s PUP News of the World, we featured Bernard Williams: Essays and Reviews 1959 – 2002 which is the first collection of Williams’s popular essays and reviews, many of which appeared in the New York Review of Books, the London Review of Books, and the Times Literary Supplement. In these pieces, Williams writes about a broad range of subjects, from philosophy and political philosophy to religion, science, the humanities, economics, socialism, feminism, and pornography.  Bernard Williams: Essays and Reviews 1959 – 2002 has since been reviewed in the Telegraph by Roger Scruton.

Scruton’s review says, “This rigorous collection of essays and reviews reveals the brilliant and critical mind of Bernard Williams … In these reviews and essays Williams achieves something that philosophy always promises but seldom delivers: a view from the perspective of reason, on a cultural landscape where reason is only one of the landmarks.

Read the Foreword to this wonderful collection now.

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